There’s little I enjoy more when holidaying in France than visiting a market. Often more frequently even than once a week every tiny town and village has one, and yet despite their ubiquity the quality and variety of produce on display rivals that of the frankly epic Borough Market in London. As pleasurable as these Gallic bazaars are to peruse, the experience is somewhat tainted by the depressing feeling that in the UK we just don’t even come close.
I live in Brighton and some years ago our only market space, the rather depressing ‘Open Market’ (with it’s shabby collection of lack-lustre characters and their unappealing produce), was levelled and rebuilt with the promise that it would emerge as a French-style, Borough-like culinary Eden. We all got excited, but the reality was sadly very different. After the unveiling those same lame stalls returned – the uninspiring fruit and veg seller with their plastic bowls of baggy peppers that look like yesterday’s birthday party balloons, the world-weary butcher who when I asked for onglet steak, or flatiron, just shrugged his shoulders and said he ‘didn’t get it’, the stall that sells bacon and eggs, cheery people at least, but who’s products, I don’t know why, seem just slightly… ‘dodgy’. Maybe I’m doing it a disservice. There’s a very nice falafel stall and a reasonable cafe, but I don’t think it’s what any of us expected and certainly not even close to what we’d hoped for.
Stroll around any French village market on a Saturday and you’ll likely happen upon a stall the sight and smell of which will make your saliva glands start to work double-hard: A trailer atop which stands a wall of bright orange electric elements and majestically revolving in front of them, row upon row of chickens, perhaps a few ham joints, but mostly chickens, golden and glistening and dripping onto a tray of neatly peeled new potatoes, lying below like yellow pebbles bathing in the hot fat. It’s quite something.
I think tinned vegetables are nice. Nothing like their fresh friends, but as long as you don’t think of them as the same thing they have their own charm and distinctive flavours. They remind me of camping, and that’s a good thing. Tinned new potatoes are particularly good for many things, not least speed and efficiency as well as a limited budget. We’ve been having them recently in curries, and they’re great sliced, lightly oiled and grilled with poached eggs. But a few days ago my son pointed out how similar they were in taste and texture to the ones that lie there looking up at the aforementioned spinning fowl. So tonight we tried an experiment and it really worked.
We’ve got a rotisserie in our oven. You probably have too. Check. I think they’re pretty standard in lots of models but people just don’t know, or forget because it’s a bit of a faff. But it’s a faff that’s worth …the faff. If you haven’t then I’ve got an alternative method which I think would work just as well. So here’s my method for French village market style roast chicken and potatoes which I implore you to have a go at.
French-Market Rotisserie Chicken
1 medium-sized chicken
2 tins new potatoes, drained
1 pot chicken stock concentrate (the Knorr ones are what I use)
salt and pepper
*when we holiday’d in Spain some years ago I bought a little tub of ‘paella powder’. It’s got a bit of flavour in it but I think it’s mostly colouring, even so it really does make a paella look good. It also made the tinned potatoes look extremely authentically French-yellow. You could use a little turmeric instead, though not too much as the flavour mightn’t seem right.
Dry the chicken out for an hour of so (if you have an hour or so. We didn’t), before rubbing it all over with a little olive oil and dusting it with salt, pepper and a bit of paprika. Them mount it on the spit.
In a bowl whisk together the stock ‘pot’ with a little oil and a dash of water and then add the potatoes, about a teaspoon of paprika, a dash of the paella powder (or a pinch of turmeric) and a generous grind of black pepper. Give it a stir and pour the contents into an oven tray which will fit under the revolving chicken.
Put the grill on, get the chicken spit revolving and place the tray of potatoes underneath so the chicken juices drip onto the potatoes and wait for about an hour.
That’s it. We had it with a sliced up baguette, some dijon mustard, some mayonnaise out of a tube (both items from previous French holiday supermarket stocking-up shopping trips) and some rough red wine, while listening to Les Négresses Vertes on Spotify.
We then went upstairs and filled the bath with multicoloured plastic ducks before trying to get them out with hooks on sticks. Not really.
If you don’t have a rotisserie in your oven
Spatchcock the chicken (look here) and season it just the same, place it directly on the bars of the oven shelf and grill it over the tray of potatoes turning it three or four times during the cooking process.
When my brother and I were little, after Christmas, my dad used to always make a turkey stew/broth/soup sort-of thing from the leftovers, and it was fantastic. Favouring fish fingers and chips, or the no longer available (at least I’ve not seen them for a long time) Bernard Matthew’s ‘Hamwich’, we used to start by turning our noses up at it, but he’d insist we try, and after a spoonful we were hooked. He’d make it in a pressure cooker, a piece of kitchen equipment that always made my mum anxious. But then most things make my mum anxious.
Next time you see one of those supermarket in-store-roasted chickens reduced in price because it’s been on display for too long, buy one, or two, and make this. Yes, I appreciate that it’s not going to be the best free-range bird but it’s still going to be good, really good, and it’s going to be super-cheap too.
First of all, when you get the bird home and out of it’s plastic bag (Sainsbury’s, Asda etc) or foil-lined paper bag (Waitrose), put it onto a dish and pull off all the meat you can – nice big pieces, and don’t forget those two little treats underneath. Then put the bones and skin into a big pot along with a quartered onion, some herbs (whatever you’ve got but ideally bay, rosemary, thyme and parsley stalks), some garlic, throw in a few black pepper corns, a couple of cloves, a carrot, some celery and leek if you’ve got that too. That’s all in an ideal world. Any of those will do, and if you don’t have them at all, even just the onion, and maybe some garlic too. Yes, you guessed correctly, you’re making stock and it is worth it. Bring it to the boil, lower it to a super low simmer, put a lid on and go to bed. It’ll be fine plopping away until you wake up in the morning. Or get on with something else if it’s morning when you started. Strain the stock through a sieve lined with muslin, put it back into the pan and reduce it down to half it’s volume. In my house we always think that the jumble of steaming bones and veg looks like an ogre’s tea – very Fee Fi Fo Fum.
Now it’s time to make the soup/stew/broth or whatever you want to call it.
1 onion (sliced)
1 clove garlic (sliced)
2 or 3 carrots (peeled and halved or quartered depending on size – you want pieces about as big as cocktail sausages)
2 or 3 potatoes large potatoes (Maris Piper’s are good) OR a handful of new potatoes
About a glass of white wine, or cider
Mushrooms (some, a couple of big flat ones or a handful of small ones, it doesn’t matter)
A quantity of the stock you made from that carcass
The meat from the chicken
Set a big casserole pan over the heat and fry the onion in a bit of oil and butter until softened, then add the garlic, carrot and potatoes. Add the wine and let it bubble down to half it’s volume before adding the meat and the stock and some pepper and maybe salt (depending on how salty the stock is). Oh, and the mushrooms. Then set the heat really low, put the lid on and give it an hour. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and have it with decent bread. Or make dumplings. And you can vary the vegetables that go in by adding broad beans, peas, cabbage, pak choi, anything you’ve got really. It’s one of those dishes. Just think about how long things take to cook, so something like pak choi would go in near the end. You know that though.